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D.C. Memo: Emmer faces brutal first task as whip

Plus: Minnesota farmers, miners take issue with new definition of U.S. waters, Post Office fails to deliver

Rep. Tom Emmer speaking to reporters during a November 15, 2022, press conference. At left is House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. No. 2 House Republican Steve Scalise is at right.
Rep. Tom Emmer speaking to reporters during a November 15, 2022, press conference. At left is House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. No. 2 House Republican Steve Scalise is at right.
REUTERS/Michael A. McCoy

WASHINGTON – When Rep.-elect Tom Emmer, R-6th, made his bid to be the House Majority Whip, he may not have expected that his first test would be so brutal.

As whip, Emmer’s main job is to round up votes needed by Rep.-elect Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., his party’s leader in the House of Representatives.

And so far, in his first and very high-profile effort to do so, Emmer has failed.

McCarthy needed 218 votes to become Speaker of the House. And in vote after vote, he fell short of that goal as 19, then 20, then 21 of House Republicans refused to vote for his candidacy.

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McCarthy faltered even after most of those holdouts were invited to Emmer’s whip office and offered a host of concessions Wednesday evening. Emmer repeatedly said the talks were “constructive,” but the voting on the speakership the next day showed that not a single mind was changed.

“Emmer is in a critical role – he’s in the leadership and he is one of the few in McCarthy’s circle who the hard right will talk to or negotiate with,” said Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota.

Jacobs said “the test is whether Emmer can deliver a deal.”

“So far, questions are being raised about Emmer’s effectiveness because there is no deal,” Jacobs said.

Emmer, McCarthy and other party leaders tried again to win over dissident Republican members Thursday evening and may have won over some members with concessions that included the offer of plum committee assignments, allowing just one member to force a vote to remove the speaker at any point – something that’s known as a motion to “vacate the chair,” – and votes on Freedom Caucus priorities like 12-year term limits.

Even if some of the holdouts are swayed by the concessions to vote for McCarthy, or vote “present” to lower the number of lawmakers needed for McCarthy’s election (the U.S. Constitution says a speaker candidate needs more than 50 percent of the votes cast,) there are a number of hardcore “never Kevin” Republican lawmakers who may not be swayed by any offer.

And some of the more moderate Republican lawmakers have started to complain about the concessions offered to the hardline GOP colleagues that are blocking McCarthy, most of the Freedom Caucus members.

Meanwhile, other candidates who could run for speaker in McCarthy’s stead, including Rep.-elect Steve Scalise, R-La., may not be able to win over other Republican factions in a chamber that is controlled by the GOP by a very narrow, 10-member, margin.

So Emmer’s first task as GOP House whip-elect has become a trial by fire.

 Fracas over clean water rule

Minnesota’s farmers and others in the state are pushing back on a Biden administration redefinition of what constitutes “waters of the United States” that are protected by the Clean Water Act.

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On Dec. 30, the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Army Corps of Engineers announced their final definition what constitutes a “waters of the United States” or WOTUS, under the federal law aimed at regulating the nation’s waters.  The new WOTUS rule would cover more waterways and wetlands than the narrower definition written by the Trump administration. But that Trump-era definition was overturned by a federal district court in 2021, opening the way for the Biden administration to redefine WOTUS. The new rule will be in force in 60 days.

Environmentalists hailed the new definition, saying it would place millions of miles of streams and tens of millions of acres of wetlands under new protections.

However, a number of lawmakers, including the members of the Congressional Western Caucus, condemned the new rule.

“Biden’s WOTUS rule creates a regulatory headache for economic drivers like farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, miners, and more, said Rep.-elect Pete Stauber, R-8th District, a caucus vice chair.

Stauber said the new definition of waters of the United States is similar to one used by the Obama administration and is a “gift to lawyers and activists, and creates hardship for my district.”

“This is simply unacceptable but I expect no less from this activist administration,” he said.

Stauber’s office said it had heard from farmers, constructions workers, paper product employees, miners and others expressing concerns with this new rule.

A number of organizations that also oppose the rule, including the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Association of Home Builders, have filed amicus, or “friends of the court” briefs in a Supreme Court case that aims to exclude non-navigable wetlands from the Clean Water Act’s WOTUS protections. Wetlands often aren’t navigable, yet they help keep navigable waters clean and healthy.

A decision in the Sackett v. EPA case is expected in the spring.

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Post Office fails to deliver

It all started in late summer or early fall, when Rep.-elect Angie Craig’s office started to receive complaints from constituents about serious delays in the delivery of their mail.

Craig, D-2nd, contacted the New Prague post office and asked to tour the facility. She was turned down but visited the post office in August anyway, said Craig communications director Laura Cottrell.

Things did not improve, despite Craig’s calls to U.S. Postal Service officials. There were new complaints, about post offices in Lakeville, Apple Valley and Eagan. Over the holidays, Craig’s office received about 160 emails and calls from constituents who had trouble with their mail, Cottrell said.

So on Dec. 30 Craig wrote USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

“I write to you today with great frustration regarding the state of mail delivery service across the Second Congressional District of Minnesota. My constituents have reported to me that they regularly go three to four days without receiving their mail; some have told me they haven’t received mail since December 16, 2022 – now 2 weeks ago. I’ve been told by local postal officials that a route would never go unserved for more than one day at a time, but it’s clear that is simply not the case,” Craig wrote DeJoy.

The postmaster general’s office indicated they received Craig’s letter, but has not responded.

The postal delays were not limited to Craig’s 2nd District, however. The office of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., also received complaints about poor service in the Twin Cities metro region, Duluth, and other areas of the state.

Klobuchar spoke with U.S. Postal Service Minnesota-North Dakota District Manager Anthony Williams and was told the postal troubles were due to staffing shortages, severe winter weather and the holiday increase in mailings.

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Klobuchar also wrote to DeJoy, a day before Craig sent her letter.

Minnesotans rely on the Postal Service to receive their paychecks, access their prescriptions, and stay connected to family and friends,” Klobuchar said in a letter. “Among several factors, delivery is being affected by staffing shortages and I encourage everyone who is interested to apply to join the U.S. Postal Service workforce and help ensure Minnesotans continue receiving reliable mail service.”

Klobuchar’s office has not received a response from her letter to DeJoy, who has been criticized for a 10-year plan he implemented in 2020.

That plan eliminated overtime, banned late or additional trips to deliver mail, decommissioned hundreds of high-speed mail-sorting machines, and removed some mail collection boxes from streets. It has been blamed for poor service in other cities across the nation.